Film Review: ‘Filmmakers for the Prosecution’: The Camera Didn’t Lie

Michael Clark
1/27/2023
Updated:
1/5/2024

Of the hundreds and hundreds of movies about World War II, the new documentary “Filmmakers for the Prosecution” (“FFTP”) is among the very few to be set after the war ended.

Long before the Marshall Plan of 1948 was passed by Congress and the slow cleanup of ravaged Europe began, the international community began preparing for a tribunal prosecuting nearly two dozen former Nazi commanders and some of the civilians who aided financially and otherwise to the decimated Third Reich.

Organized jointly by Allied heads of state Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin, what would become known as the “Nuremberg trials” was scheduled to start in September of 1945. This left relatively little time for lead attorney Robert H. Jackson and his team to prepare.

Yes, That John Ford

Wisely anticipating that any evidence from U.S. sources would be rebuffed by the defense as biased, Jackson turned to Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative, director John Ford (yes, that John Ford) to field a team to assemble thousands of hours of confiscated Nazi films containing evidence of their extensive crimes against humanity.
Stuart Schulberg and his brother documented evidence for the Nuremberg trials. (Gateway Film Center)
Stuart Schulberg and his brother documented evidence for the Nuremberg trials. (Gateway Film Center)

In turn, Ford assigned this mammoth task to two underlings, brothers Stuart and Budd Schulberg, the sons of B.P. Schulberg, a movie industry pioneer and head of production at Paramount in the 1920s. After serving his country, Budd went on to pen novels (“The Harder They Fall,” “What Makes Sammy Run?”) and won a Best Screenplay Academy Award  for “On the Waterfront.”

So sure and so confident that theirs was a righteous cause, the Nazis chronicled virtually every atrocity they committed for posterity’s sake and, yes, for Hitler and his inner circle’s after-dinner entertainment high in the Alps. Hint to future tyrants wishing to take over the world by committing mass genocide: Don’t make home movies of yourself and your cronies torturing and gassing civilians, and then burying them in mass graves.

Luckily for the prosecution, the trials were delayed until November, which allowed the Schulbergs and others to gather even more incriminating stock footage hidden all over hill and dale—including in (yes) haystacks and salt mines—as well as over 12,000 negatives from the files of Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann.

OSS officer Stuart Schulberg (R) examines film evidence with Nazi photographer Heinrich Hoffmann (C), who was forced to relinquish his cache of thousands of photos for material evidence at the Nuremberg trials. (Kino Lorber)
OSS officer Stuart Schulberg (R) examines film evidence with Nazi photographer Heinrich Hoffmann (C), who was forced to relinquish his cache of thousands of photos for material evidence at the Nuremberg trials. (Kino Lorber)

The Verdicts

Jackson and the Schulbergs caught an even bigger break when the high-profile German propaganda filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl saw the writing on the wall and decided to flip. Most noted for the 1935 feature “Triumph of the Will,” Riefenstahl’s choice saved her from prison time and possibly saved her life.
Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (C) in a clip from the documentary "Filmmakers for the Prosecution." (Gateway Film Center)
Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (C) in a clip from the documentary "Filmmakers for the Prosecution." (Gateway Film Center)

This insurmountable mountain of evidence led to convictions passed down by the judge’s panel resulting in 12 death sentences, seven prison terms, and three acquittals. Despite all of this, all but a couple of the defendants showed nothing resembling remorse or contrition. The notable exception was Rudolf Hess, who at the start the proceedings feigned amnesia, but after witnessing the two Schulberg-produced films in the courtroom (totaling 195 minutes), he confessed and threw himself on the mercy of the court.

“FFTP” takes an unexpected (but highly welcomed) turn in the final third of the film, after the trials finished: What would happen to the 300-plus hours of film (only some portions of the trials were allowed to be filmed)? At first, the U.S. government wanted to make a feature out of the footage but that never happened. Also, the Russian film crew (led by Roman Carmen) present at the trials had (mostly different) footage and didn’t want to share it.

Then Came the Cold War

The original plan for the Schulberg documentary feature of the trials hit a metaphoric brick wall in the early 1950s when the vanquished enemy (Germany) became a U.S. ally and their World War II ally (the Soviet Union) transformed into the new enemy. Any and all historic or artistic interest in making the film public came to a screeching halt.

Clocking in at just under an hour, “FFTP” still manages to exceed the length of the Academy of the Motion Pictures Arts and Science’s definition of a feature film by 18 minutes, and by doing so, it provides a great lesson for all aspiring filmmakers. If you wish to make a great movie, edit yourself and include only what’s needed. Don’t consider the running time; consider the strength of the content. That is exactly what French director Jean-Christophe Klotz did here. “FFTP” is a fat-free production from start to finish.

The movie also points out the beyond-skewed perspective of the U.S. government at the time as it applied to art, truth, politics, international relations, and most importantly censorship. It eerily smacks of what’s taking place in our own country right now.

"Filmmakers for the Prosecution" documents evidence for the Nuremberg trials. (Gateway Film Center)
"Filmmakers for the Prosecution" documents evidence for the Nuremberg trials. (Gateway Film Center)
‘Filmmakers for the Prosecution’ Documentary Director: Jean-Christophe Klotz Running Time: 58 minutes MPAA Rating: Not Rated Release Date: Jan. 27, 2023 Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has provided film content to over 30 print and online media outlets. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a weekly contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on FloridaManRadio.com. Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles. He favors dark comedy, thrillers, and documentaries.